SIGTARP Cracks Down on Online Mortgage Modification Scams
December 6th, 2011
December 6th, 2011
At the end of November, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) shut down 125 online mortgage modification scams advertised on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing according to the National Mortgage News. The targeted scammers used deceptive Web banners and other online search advertisements, promising homeowners, that in exchange for a fee, they could lower the homeowner’s mortgage through the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), TARP’s housing program. Instead, these advertisers or agents were scamming struggling homeowners.
In the most common scheme, homeowners paid an up-front fee for the companies’ assistance to lower their mortgage payments. The advertiser or agent would tell the distressed homeowner to quit paying their mortgage and to stop all communications with their lender. Mortgage payments were then sent to the deceptive company and/or the homeowner’s property deeds were transferred. The homeowners’ financial information was also released. In some cases, these fraudulent companies claimed to be affiliated with the federal government by using a name similar to an actual government agency or by placing a government seal on their website.
In cooperation with SIGTARP’s ongoing criminal investigation, Google and Microsoft, which created Bing and whose technology powers Yahoo! Search, suspended advertising relationships with the fraudulent companies identified by SIGTARP. In addition to stopping all future advertising with these companies, Microsoft also ended advertising relationships with over 400 Internet advertisers and agents associated with these alleged online mortgage modification schemes. Additionally, Google ended advertising relationships with over 500 Internet advertisers and agents linked with 85 of these scams.
SIGTARP’s mission is to investigate and prosecute criminals who defraud homeowners in connection with HAMP. Plus, through education, SIGTARP wants homeowners to protect themselves from becoming potential victims of mortgage fraud.
If you want to take advantage of a HAMP mortgage modification, you should work directly with your lender, a reputable mortgage provider, or through HUD-approved housing counselors. HAMP is a free program. You are not required to pay a fee. You should continue making your mortgage payments directly to your lender, and you should never send your payments to another company. Also, be aware that if someone tells you to stop paying your mortgage or to stop all communications with your lender, these are signs of a mortgage modification scam.
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